While defending the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha, who recited a poem ‘Thakur Ka Kuan’ in Parliament on 27 September 2023, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad said that Jha was a scholar. Lalu is not wrong. Jha is known for his fluid, logical speeches from different platforms. But another RJD leader, who lives hundreds of kilometres away from Parliament, at Khusrupur, neighbouring Patna, is desperately waiting for Lalu to speak up for him.
This frail man wants to utter a word on the atrocities committed against his sister-in-law. If not Lalu, another senior leader from the RJD could do that, visit his village and meet her – the same village where he has passionately painted “I love RJD” on electricity poles.
That man, Ashok Das, has been heading the Dalit Cell of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) unit of Khusrupur block in Patna district for the past 15 years. In Mosimpur village of the block, a Dalit woman was stripped, beaten up and urinated on. The woman happens to be Ashok Das’ sister-in-law.
When I went to meet her, she lay in a windowless room, with a ceiling fan whirring lazily. As soon as I entered the room, she covered her face with a towel, in case I clicked a photo and revealed her identity.
Wrapped in a bright, yellow sari, the body of this frail woman is a testament to the beastly behaviour she was subjected to on the night of 23 September. Five roundish blue marks, each of 10-12 cm diameter, are clearly visible on her legs. The right side of her head is tied with a yellowing bandage, which doesn’t seem to have been changed for many days. Women seated in the room say that there is swelling on her scalp, which is covered with hair.
The incident at Khusrupur on 23 September shows that casteist hegemony is still rampant and loan sharks are still operating with impunity in the rural areas. It also shows that violence against women is still common. Just to secure the votes of their caste, political parties can and do ignore the travails of even their most committed workers.
But first, here is what Ashok Das’ sister-in-law underwent that day.
The victim is a cook in a government school and is also associated with a livelihood group called Jeevika. Around two years ago, she had taken Rs 1,500 for her medical treatment on loan from Pramod Singh Yadav of her village. According to the victim, she had repaid the amount to Yadav within ten days. However, until the day of the incident Pramod Singh and his family continued to pester her to repay the amount.
Yadav wanted the victim to pay interest on the loan. However, the victim’s argument was that since the amount was paid within 10 days, there was no question of any interest. On the evening of 22 September, the victim says, Yadav’s wife Mamata Devi and his son Anshu came to her and demanded money. When she refused, Anshu hurled a brick at her, which hit her chest. The next morning, when the victim went to a tubewell near her house to fetch water, she was attacked with a stick and was threatened that she would be made to “dance naked”.
This threat sent the Dalit locality, comprising eight families, in the village into a tizzy. They locked themselves in their homes. On 23 September, around 10 pm, when the victim’s sister-in-law needed to relieve herself, the victim went to the tubewell to fetch water for her. Pramod Singh Yadav was lying in wait for her. She told her that they were holding her husband Subodh Das captive.
On hearing this, she rushed to Pramod’s house, which is a short distance from her house in the Ravidas Tola. The victim alleges that she was caught, shoved into the room and stripped. Pramod and five others accused assaulted her. After thrashing her for about 10 minutes, at Pramod’s instance, his son, Anshu, urinated on her face. The victim somehow managed to escape from the house. To save her life, she ran naked towards her home. When the victim’s sister came out of the toilet, she did not find the victim there. She raised an alarm and the family members began looking for her. They saw her running towards her house. The women of the family wrapped a sari around her and brought her home.
The family members dialed 122, the police helpline. Cops reached the Ravidas Tola about 45 minutes later and took her to the Primary Health Centre, from where she was discharged after treatment on the evening of 24 September. The FIR of the incident, which took place on 23 September night, was registered on the morning of 24 September. The victim’s elder brother Bijli Das told FORWARD Press, “When we reached the police station to get an FIR registered, we found that the accused were sitting with the policemen. Later, the police registered an FIR but did not give a copy to them. The copy was given after the members of Bhim Army mounted pressure on the policemen.”
The police registered a case against Pramod Singh Yadav, his son Anshu and four other unidentified persons. Among them, Pramod Singh surrendered before the police. He admitted to having beaten the victim but claimed that she was neither stripped nor urinated upon. Pramod’s wife and his son are absconding. Pramod’s sister-in-law Rekha Devi said that Pramod’s wife’s Mamata Devi and her son Anshu left for her father’s place on the morning of 22 September.
Since then, padlocks are hanging from the doors of the Dalit families who are in debt. Some have sent their daughters to other places. Of the three children of the victim, the youngest, a daughter, is just 7 and the mother is worried about her safety. Representatives of political parties and social organizations have been visiting the victim’s home. But Ashok Das is waiting for a leader of his own party, the RJD, to visit them. He says that even the local RJD MLA Aniruddh Yadav visited their place only after he rang him.
Ashok Das is not just another worker of the RJD. Around 2003-04, he used to be a favourite of the press photographers. The reason was that he was an ardent Lalu devotee. Driven by his adulation for Lalu, he used to do bizarre things. In 2004, when Lalu won the elections from the Saran Lok Sabha constituency, Ashok Das wrote a congratulatory message to his leader in his blood.
He used to appeal to voters to vote for the RJD, balancing a lantern (RJD’s election symbol) on his chest. He used to stand on one leg for hours to canvass for RJD candidates. He undertook a yatra from Patna to Delhi on 24 August 2004 with the demand for universal education. Ashok Das says that when Lalu was the minister for railways, he had offered a job to him but he refused.
Ashok Das’ wife and children are so terror-stricken that they cannot gather the courage to get down from the terrace of his home. Ashok Das is a broken man. He says that if his party continues to ignore the atrocity that her sister-in-law endured, he will have to take a call on his ties with the party.
Mosimpur is dominated by the Yadavs, with a sprinkling of Chaeen, Tanti, Ravidas and some Muslim homes.
The Yadavs in the village are mainly engaged in farming and money-lending. The village sarpanch, Dinesh Singh, says, “Around 100 families here are engaged in money-lending at three to four per cent interest per month. We duly keep a record of the transactions. And whenever there is a dispute, it is resolved through mediation. In this case, that did not happen.” To get to the point, the village has a goon bank. This exposes the Bihar government’s claim that the practice of lending money at sky-high interest in the rural areas of the state has been reined in.
Since Yadavs, the core voters of the RJD, are in the dock in the case, the party is keeping quiet. This has rattled Ashok Das to no end. He says, “The party is supposed to secure justice for the poor. But the Yadavs are silent on this detestable crime.”
There is no dearth of people like Ashok Yadav in Bihar for whom Lalu – a key player in the social justice movement in the state – is no less than god. But, then, the question that begs an answer is – what is the stand of the ruling party when a committed worker of theirs like Ashok Das has been put through such agony?
(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)
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